GAWDA is Listening to and Acting on Member Feedback

Surveys, One-to-One Interface Yielding Important Ideas and Changes

The GAWDA online survey, taken right after the Spring Management Conference, measured the views of distributor and supplier members regarding that event. The explicit, candid feedback we received has been very informative and in many ways, quite gratifying.

The Association is pleased with the high rate of participation and direct input and response. Such feedback is essential to GAWDA’s planning efforts, because it reflects the pressing interests and ongoing needs of our members. And this input is useful and practical, too. Members told us what they believe we’re doing well; in which areas they’d like to see improvements; and they’ve offered great opinions and ideas for ways that GAWDA can build even higher value into its events and activities.

In addition to my own (and the Executive Committee’s) review of the survey evaluations, several members made time at the SMC to share their feedback with me face-to-face. Let me assure you, the survey comments have been read, the ideas have been reviewed, and already, GAWDA staff and board members are using those insights to shape coming events, initiatives and agendas so they truly reflect what our distributor, supplier, manufacturer’s representative and individual members say they want from our organization.

Actionable Ideas

Many comments centered on the SMC Contact Booth Program’s new format. Many members said they enjoyed the expanded, roomier layout, as well as the new prize offerings. We think the prize program is a good idea, and we plan to continue it at the Annual Convention this fall, fine-tuning it to improve its execution, including some survey respondents’ ideas.

Another member offered the practical idea that at the next conference, GAWDA provide every attendee with a postage-paid mailing box. That would permit them to take advantage of the giveaways and literature vendors and suppliers offer, yet shipping the items postpaid back to their offices, rather than leaving them behind or having them weigh down their luggage on the trip home.

Both Perspectives

This Association continues to explore the idea of meeting the diverse needs of both its supplier and distributor members. We’re curious about the question of what drives suppliers to look at alternate channels of distribution. What does the “ideal distributor” look like to a GAWDA supplier? And from the distributor perspective, what elements comprise an “ideal supplier”? What do suppliers think GAWDA distributors should do more of? What could distributors do to prevent them from seeking alternate channels for distributing their products?

Those are critical questions for both parts of our membership. Historically, distributors have been the mainstay of GAWDA, but that’s changing. Today, 43 percent of our members are supplier firms. At the 2016 SMC, suppliers represented 55.7 percent (363 out of 651) of our attendees.

Supplier companies contribute a higher percentage of financial support to our Association, collectively, than the distributor component does. They also support our SMC Contact Booth Program and Annual Convention exhibitor spaces. For some suppliers, those programs may represent the only two opportunities they have all year to interface with distributors face-to-face. That’s why I’m encouraging everyone to use their time and focus at the spring and fall Contact Booth Programs, and throughout the conference, to interface in the most meaningful and productive ways. Here are a few suggestions:


  • Do some advance homework. Go into the booth program with a list of five to 10 “must-see” suppliers — ones whose websites you’ve previewed before the show.
  • After those 10 visits are done, see three more suppliers you’ve never talked to before.
  • Dedicate five minutes of time to each one to find out what that supplier has that you might be able to offer your customers.

At worse, you’ll have spent a short amount of time over a three- or four- day period. At best, you may actually discover a whole new product or service that can open up a new line of business, give you a competitive edge and possibly really boost your bottom line.


  • Think about what attracts someone to want to get to know you.
  • Assess your booth to make sure it is really informative.
  • Learn how to engage passersby. Get out from behind your table, stand at the aisle, get a little assertive in approaching new people, and learn how to present your company with an engaging demeanor.

You might like to take the advice of several of our members, who shared with me their tips for making the most of a short trade show timeframe:

Chet DeKing, vice president of operations, Weldstar Company (Aurora, Illinois), says his team plans ahead, thinks about the booths they want to see, and assigns team members to visit various ones. In addition, if senior executives are attending, the firm uses their availability to meet with them to work out any issues that may exist. He says shows also are when the company specifically looks for new products and takes time to hear of new programs being offered.

Jeff Johnson, of Arc3 Gases, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, normally doesn’t attend a booth program with a specific agenda, but looks for special deals that suppliers might be offering during that show timeframe. He’s also responsive if vendors have contacted him in advance of the event asking him to stop by and see something specific, he says.

Jim Earlbeck, of Earlbeck Gases & Technologies, may not have anything special in mind as he strolls the aisles of a trade show, but because he knows it’s important to suppliers, he dedicates time for that during his conference stay. He also looks for suppliers’ new products and uses the time to hear about new promotions they are launching, he adds.

DeWayne Buckelew, of G.E.T.S. Welding Supplies, Dothan, Alabama, a brand-new GAWDA member, believes the Contact Booth Program provides access to vendors he might not normally see. He said he appreciates meeting personally to establish new relationships and obtain information on new products to sell in his store.

Let’s all help each other take maximum advantage of the opportunities provided by the conference networking events and the vendor contact booth programs. For both distributors and suppliers, I think you’ll find that our regional, fall and spring conferences are like most things in life: You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

One More Thing

Watch your mailbox for an official invitation to GAWDA’s 2016 Annual Convention in Hawaii. In the meantime, Debbie and I extend a personal invitation and hope we will see you at this 72nd event.

We look forward to welcoming First-Timers and repeat conference attendees to the President’s Reception, which will be held outside overlooking a beautiful Maui vista. There will be a fantastic dinner in the ballroom and the evening will be capped with the world-famous Howling At The Moon dueling-pianos show.

William Visintainer
2015-16 GAWDA President W.A. Visintainer is president of Atlas Welding Supply Co. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and online at He can be reached at and at 205-345-6903.